Humanitarian work: a balancing act

The privilege to share people's stories

One sees the unimaginable, the nearly indescribable in responding to a disaster. The earlier you arrive, the worse the sights, sounds and smells taken in. But none of it compares to the experiences of the men, women and children who lived through the earthquake, the flood, the shelling that brought you there. 

Accordingly, these people guide, instruct and inspire you. You take your lead from them. As a communications officer I help these people tell their stories to the world. It's a task infused with awe at how the so-called victims prevail, with privilege for the raw truth they share and with pain because in their retelling and my hearing everyone hurts. 

So, it's a balancing act, keeping them and yourself safe. Many would say leave the poor people alone. Let them grieve. But asking and then truly listening can be a powerful act of kindness. 

It’s also a sign of profound respect to refuse to let people’s suffering be reduced to impersonal numbers, five and six digit tolls like 16,000 dead and 250,000 homeless. Instead you let one person's unimaginable, nearly indescribable story speak for the thousands.

You give them eye contact, be it words, photos, videos or a tweet, with the world.